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Berkeley Talks transcript: Scholars discuss ‘New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century’

painting of the palm of a hand with the word

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #124: “Scholars discuss ‘New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century'”:

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Acast, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

[Music fades]

Lisa Wymore: …and with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Exhibition entitled New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st century. I’m so excited about this on Monday speaker series, which is supported by the office of Berkeley Arts and Design, which connects and fortifies creative departments and units throughout the Berkeley campus and beyond.

Funds for these talks are made possible by A + D, and its generous philanthropic donations from donors. Unique to the speaker series is its connection to the course Humanities 20, offered through the Division of the Arts and Humanities. Fifty students are enrolled in this class and attend weekly talks, welcome class. This semester’s theme is “perseverance, renewal and reflection.”

Before we begin, I’d like to make a land acknowledgement. We recognize that tonight’s event is located in the territory of xučyun (Huichin), the ancestral and unceded lands of the Chochenyo speaking Ohlone people, specifically the Confederated Villages of Lisjan. The history of prolific artistic and technological advancements and development in this region has always been dependent on this land. Berkeley Arts + Design is committed to supporting the sovereignty and ongoing stewardship of this place by the Ohlone people through building long-term reciprocity and relationship with tribal leaders and organizers. I will now pass it over to my esteemed colleague, Sherry Goodman, who is the BAMPFA director of education.

Sherry Goodman: Thank you, Lisa. And welcome to this discussion with Judith Butler and Mel Y. Chen, presented in conjunction with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives exhibition, New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century, which is on view at BAMPFA through Jan. 30. Their conversation, titled, “Gender Pandemic Time: New Time,” takes as its point of departure an earlier one that appears in the exhibition catalog and which they’re updating to reflect the transformation of time in relation to gender in the interim.

New Time was organized by Apsara DiQuinzio, former BAMPFA senior curator of modern and contemporary art and Phyllis C. Wattis Matrix Curator, together with curatorial assistant Claire Frost. The exhibition examines recent feminist art through eight different themes — one of which, gender alchemy, was highlighted in a major review of the exhibition in yesterday’s New York Times. What we’re looking at is an installation shot of the section with glimpses from left to right of work by Zanele Muholi, Kalup Linzy, Nicki Green, and Wu Tsang. New Time presents over 75 artists and collectives, and spans several generations, media, geographies and political sensibilities.

The exhibition looks expansively at different kinds of feminism in a period when feminism has been increasingly imbued with class, racial and gender differences. And it looks inclusively at gender with artists who are cisgender women, trans women, non-binary individuals and even a few men.

Now to our presenters: Judith Butler is Maxine Elliott professor emeritus in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. And this fall, also distinguished visiting professor in philosophy at the New School University. Butler, an internationally renowned gender theorist and philosopher is highly influential in the fields of political philosophy, ethics, third-wave feminism, queer theory and literary theory. They’re the author of many groundbreaking books spanning from Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity in 1990, to The Force of Nonviolence in 2020.

Mel Y. Chan, a former student of Butler’s, is associate professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture. They’re the author of Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, and are currently completing a book titled Chemical Intimacies, about intoxication’s role in the inter-animation of race and disability in histories and legacies of the transnational 19th century.

Elsewhere, Chen has written on slowness, gesture, inhumanisms, cognitive disability and method. They’re part of a small and sustaining queer trans of color arts collective in the San Francisco bay area. Mel and Judith will now engage in a conversation followed by a time for some questions, please submit them via the Q and A box. Thank you. And now Mel and Judith.

Mel Y. Chen: Hello Judith. Hello everyone.

Judith Butler: Hey Mel.

Mel Y. Chen: Hi, I just thought I’d open with some words of gratitude. Wanted to thank Berkeley Arts + Design and the Berkeley Art Museum for having us in this series. I wanted to also thank Apsara DiQuinzio, Sherry Goodman, Paris Cotz, Dave Taylor and Justine Castro. And all the artists in the show who are making this event possible. And Judith, thank you for your time today, and always.

I’m speaking from the unceded territory of xučyun (Huichin), otherwise known as Oakland, California. I also wanted to add that for our conversation, we didn’t want to rehash the published conversation we have in the catalog for the show. So, instead we chose to discuss “pandemic time” as a focal theme for today. And so, in association with that, we’ll be talking about a few of the images from the show. Oh, and I wanted to self describe for those who are listening today: I have short hair and glasses. I’m wearing a gray shirt. I’m sitting in an office bedroom with a bookshelf to my left and then natural light at this moment is waning. Judith.

Judith Butler: I’m very pleased to be here. I want to thank BAMPFA, and all the various people who brought us together. It’s always a pleasure to speak with Mel and to learn from Mel. I am sitting in a rented apartment in New York City and the sun is long gone. It is late. I am tired, but here I am. New York City belongs to the Lenape people, as you may know, and we will talk a little bit further on today about dispossession and its historical reverberations.

We have a problem before us. How do we think about time? What does it mean to talk about new time? Is there old time and new time? I know how to talk about the past and the future. I’m not sure I understand the kind of time that we’ll call new, or the kind of time that we call old.

The title of the exhibition though asks us to consider new time in relationship to feminism and art. The title was of course provided before the pandemic. So we might say it was a new time prior to the pandemic time, which of course makes that new time old, but maybe the title names a time that has passed that was new or was anticipated to be new from a certain point in time, and is now at a distance from the one we now live. That doesn’t mean there’s no connection between them, but it seems to me that at the time the exhibition was conceived — and I hope I’m right, I may be wrong — It anticipated a continuity between the time of conception and the time of exhibition.

But these turn out to be two very different times caused in part by enormous delays, as we know, as BAMPFA closed and as so many art projects were put on hold, but the title as it comes to us now opens up this question of in commensurability. What happens if one time at another time are not the same, and there’s a gap that opens, what do we call that gap? It seems to be part of time. I’m not sure it’s new, perhaps it’s recurrent. What if in fact, as we may well suggest, the new time in which we arrive, still within the pandemic, but in one of its variations, if not variance, what if that new time is one in which archaic and lost forms of time are coming to life?

Mel Y. Chen: So, we hold on to this question about our archaic resumptions, and I think in our further thinking, we’re also kind of coming to realize that we can’t predict. And certainly the curator could not predict what temporal world the show would appear into. We’re also thinking about the ways in which every being in the pandemic is being in time in its own way. And so it’s important to mark here that there is no single pandemic time. There are only pandemic temporalities, which we might choose to mark as such or become palpable as characteristic of this current COVID-19 pandemic. And as for the phrase “new time,” or maybe we could call it “not same time.” The trans-cynic in me asks, “Well, what’s new? What’s novel?” As many of us notice that what’s presented as novelty was already invented or sustained. Those who live under undue burden in the pandemic, see these undue burdens happening yet again, perhaps with greater intensity in the strange economic world of the SF Bay Area.

This is exemplified by an article I saw a few years ago in our local paper, which announced that the tech bros of Silicon Valley had invented collective living to afford the costs of their multi-thousand dollar apartments. Wow, I had no idea! And also, I learned that the flourishing in this last decade of nationwide, of municipal zoning laws to limit poor and immigrant families from having too many people in their households, is to be judged in entirely different terms in other temporalities than not new.

As goes to queer and trans of color, non-binary, lesbian and gay collectives that are rich in the history and present of this place. It’s also, we’re saying, that its change is entitled to life and non-life alike. There are never not novelties. So then the question becomes for us what quantification, or what threshold, or what failed memory, or what erasure of immigrants and Black and Indigenous people, and people of color, what limited scope of maternity for instance makes it possible to imagine the arrival of a new. So, it’s with these questions that I sit with Judith’s question about archaic forms. These are open questions. And as we’ve seen, highly subjective ones.

Judith Butler: Thank you, Mel. We’re also tasked with talking about gender and pandemic time, but perhaps we should start by trying not to make the mistake of thinking that gender only means women, or that women only means those assigned female at birth. The point of course, here and in the exhibition, and then our thought, is not simply to examine representations of women, in or outside of pandemic time. Nor do we, I think, wish to consider pandemic time exclusively along the human access. Maybe pandemic time has moved the human off its access in some ways that we need to consider.

One question I have is what forms of community have dissolved, and what kind have formed during this time. A time that continues despite its variations and its variance. Of course, there are many proclamations. The pandemic is over, or the world is reopened, but these are, I think, manic denials of the fact that indeed we have ongoing illness, contagion, and a lack of effective vaccination in different ways throughout the world.

I’m very mindful of the fact that certain countries have not seen a vaccination or that major countries, like Nigeria, Tanzania, have seen very, very few. South Africa as well. In any case, sometimes at least, and here I’m thinking about the visual representations we are looking at today. Sometimes if we only come to know what we call a time, the time that is ours or a time that has passed, or a relationship among those times through spatial configurations, infrastructures destroyed and improvised, the non-human animacies with which the human becomes ever more closely bound or moves in proximity to.

So, let’s not go back to imagining that there’s some version of women’s time or that for some marvelous reason, Chinese women knew it best. Those days are, I think, probably over. Temporalities are of course, multiple, and many of them act as if they are the only possible temp orality. When in fact their claim to exclusion is an instrument for facing other coterminous temporalities.

The ideal of a matriarchy of old and original matriarchal power, an origin and peaceful coexistence associated with feminine principles, or the association of feminine principles with the earth is, I think, no longer quite plausible as an imagination of our time, of the origin of our time and origin, to which we long to return. I’m not sure any of us do wish to return to that time. Maybe some do, maybe I’m being unfair. That longing is not so common in this time.

And yet I certainly was exposed to the longing for matriarchy as a young person, and sat in many consciousness-raising groups where that was actively discussed. Perhaps we should consider them first. Candice Lin’s “Failed Matriarchy” created in 2008. It’s a picture that all too readily recalls feminist arguments we have known. Wondering if we can bring that up?

Mel Y. Chen: Can you see that Judith?

Judith Butler: Yes. Thank you.

Mel Y. Chen: All right. So this is one of the works in the show. I’m not sure if that green line is showing up? I apologize. I don’t know why it’s there. We wanted to focus for our beginning image on a 2008 work by Candice Lin. And this is water color and ink on paper. I wanted to just give a bit of audio description for those who are listening:

The color tones are muted. There are dark ink drawings of trees on the left and right side of the work, many of which appear to be dead. And then a number of human beings with some light to medium coloration. In the background are some un-pigmented people of different ages. And behind them, a few bodies hanging with what looks like Spanish Moss. It is a possible gesture to lynching in the U.S. South. All human bodies are naked. There are two foregrounded feminine bodies with long dark hair, both with mouths agape.

The central one is next to a huge stone and is also palming a stone that is about to be pitched at the person on the left, who is already ducking a first stone. And I want to mark that these stones all bear fairly stark and attentive coloration.

So one of the storied matriarchal societies among at least some feminists, and I think that’s what Judith was pointing to, a feminist who might’ve been banking on a foundational myth to celebrate is one from China. The [inaudible] people from around Yunnan province, which happens to be where my mother is from. A viewer might wonder about [inaudible] presence in this work, but also note the lack of clothing. The cynical gesture, perhaps toward a pastime, so past or so mythic, that matrilineal society is depicted as prelapsarian, rather than something that lives on. It’s been hinted that this is also a reference to battles between white feminists and feminists of color.

So, you start to get a sense that this is a really good joke. One that some feminists might not find funny because that’s the joke about feminism. I also want to mention here that there is another work in the exhibition, “Karen,” 2018, a sculpture by the artist Rose B. Simpson, which I also really liked, but won’t speak about specifically here. But I wanted to note that Simpson is Santa Clara Pueblo, and she has spoken at a different event here at Berkeley about materials, supposedly inanimate, such as ceramics that listen, that witness in a way of being in the world that she describes as intuitive to her, but which is externally recognized as spirituality.

So, both her work and her account of material witnessing influence how I can think more expansively about Candice Lin’s prominent rock here. In other words, there’s refractive work happening among the pieces in the show and Lin herself uses natural materials.

In two neighboring works in this show, as well as animates, certain kinds of chemical and biological intimacies in her other works. But with regard to the stones, we could also talk about geological time. At a time in which rock would seem to change its scales that dwarf the timescales of human lives, or the timescales of pandemics. The point that is ionized by some accounts of the Anthropocene in which human activity is in fact marked in a geological record.

So for instance, the increase in carbon dioxide beginning with the industrial age and beyond now, including that of what we call climate change, is deposited or fossilized into rocks in sedimentary layers that stratigraphers will say can be reflected from future geological time. One way to imagine this is as a kind of possibly secular witnessing by rocks or rock-worn carbons. Or a kind of animacy in the rocks for whom humans or these matriarchal combatants are mere participants in a much larger action. Judith.

Judith Butler: Thank you, Mel. I’m wondering if you could maybe reduce the size of that picture a little, because we can’t quite see the left hand figure.

Mel Y. Chen: Oh really? Strangely it’s showing up as a full screen for me. Let me just escape…

Judith Butler: So many incommensurabilities.

Mel Y. Chen: So, I’ve got… Hold on a second. I’m going to share, and this time not open up the slideshow. I apologize for that.

Judith Butler: No, it’s no problem.

Mel Y. Chen: Is that better?

Judith Butler: There you go. Yes, that’s perfect. Thank you so much. So this scene, I mean, I have to say, I love this scene. It does strike me as a joke. It’s also an historical reality. Some truth, I think, is to be found there. When we say it’s a joke, we don’t mean it’s untrue. We mean that it’s emanating its truth in a joke form.

What is happening? Well, dissension, possibly fatal. Haunts of a feminist debate, but what’s new about this image of the so-called patriarchal, is this landscape, this image of an originary time, which is not exactly the garden of Eden, is that it’s an afflicted landscape. It’s one in which the trees are fading, or dying, or dehydrated. I’m not sure? And a strange community is convened as Mel has pointed out. One that binds the human figures. The women binds them up with animals and rocks; rocks which are thrown and rocks which, as Mel suggested, lay about witnessing the fight. They’re maybe the chroniclers of a certain kind. The ideal of a peaceable origin, an origin in equality in consensus, one in which women rule, if that is how we viewed matriarchy, seems not exactly to be the case.

They’re throwing rocks at each other. Matriarchy, ma-tri-ar-chy, can be the principle that is supposed to be present in women’s communities. Truly not a variant of an-ar-chy, where the principle is set aside and not the same as agonisim or antagonism, which is far more familiar.

I think, both of them far more familiar as modalities of feminist debate. The title lets us know that matriarchy has failed or is failing, that the rule by women is no rule or the life organized by their principle is not peaceable. It’s rife with conflict, set in a natural landscape, arguably primativized for effect. The picture plays upon the older feminist desire for a return to a time before men ruled, as it destroys the nostalgia for any such time.

So, what we end up seeing is less a debate, than a primeval brawl, who knows if anyone is actually speaking or arguing, or if there are points of view at issue. They’re heaving stones in the direction of each other and the open mouths may be voicing cries and runs and shrieks for all we know.

If we go back to the beginning, we find, perhaps the women’s studies departmental meeting in which insults are thrown and some people end up leaving in anger… Happens at all sorts of institutions, but here the mediators are surely not called in, they’re nowhere in sight.

The scene is frozen, a garden of Eden, or a matriarchal garden gone awry. It seems maybe there are at least two points to underscore at this moment. One has to do with time, a hopeful and diluted relation to time where the lost past furnishes ideals of a possible future. In its place, the brutalizing present of feminist dissension on matters of race, sexuality, gender identity, class, all turn out to be part of that imagined scene from the past.

We’re allowed to be neither Arcadian, believing that the past carries all the wisdom we need in moving forward nor progressivists. Indeed, it’s not possible to imagine that time is ultimately progressive, that despite various setbacks, all our legislative agenda items will be realized and the cause of justice will be advanced, secured for the future.

We can surely hope for such things. We can surely struggle for such things and we do, but we cannot exactly rely on some schema to produce them, for sure, in the future… Is driving forward without a break, does not work so well, creating destruction in its wake. Destroying the bodies of those whose lives, in the name of which progress is made.

We then and I hope Mel joins me, we propose failure. Failure. Yes, not as a lamentable interruption of inevitable progress, but rather as a way of life, even a queer way of life, lived to the side of norms.

This brings me to our second point, concerning the word failure. It’s not exactly that matriarchy has failed, but rather that the ideal of matriarchy, whatever that was, is no longer plausible, meaning it’s no longer desirable and failure is now given a different value.

One that resonates with established work on queer failure. The critique of functionalism and teleology, the value of the errant and mistaken path. The deviation from the norm, the failure to reproduce. Women’s violence turns out not to be a contradiction in terms, not at all. Women have no special relationship to nonviolence or to the earth, or so it now seems. Yet the natural landscape, interestingly, is what offers another configuration of relationality. One that seems to emerge from the minerals and the trees, the animals and the humans.

Mel Y. Chen: Thank you Judith. So, yes and on that fantastical ecology, the murderous garden of Eden with a murderous past and present, barely hidden in today’s pandemic battles, or mask preoccupations of public space.

On that note, we thought we would turn to another work that got us talking and perhaps also resonated with questions of queer failure. And that is my tooth eyes underground. I can’t think, oh, there we are. So I’ll hand this back to you Judith.

Judith Butler: Okay. I’m trying to think if I can read this, I’ll do my best. I guess I’m going to have to pull up a different…

Mel Y. Chen: Oh yeah. It’s not readable?

Judith Butler: Yeah. It’s not readable for me. I’m so sorry.

Mel Y. Chen: The documents. I think the documents we have the text.

Judith Butler: Yes. Okay. Let’s see if I can do this, sorry. I’m having a little trouble here.

Mel Y. Chen: Can I… Let me know if I can help? We have our little script, but we don’t have to follow it.

Judith Butler: No, I would like that. I’m just not seeing it here.

Mel Y. Chen: Let’s see, the text. It’s under what we’re calling part three: “Perret’s ‘Underground.'”

Judith Butler: Right…

Mel Y. Chen: Oh, it’s in, it’s in my version that I…

Judith Butler: Oh, okay.

Mel Y. Chen: Yeah. Yeah.

Judith Butler: Okay. Why don’t you read it out aloud Mel and then I will have access to it and we’ll be able to discuss it.

Mel Y. Chen: Okay. I can begin. But if you are able to locate your copy, please feel free to jump in. Or you can just be the one who interrupts me. That sounds fun.

Judith Butler: Okay.

Mel Y. Chen: Okay. So we thought we’d actually read this together and interrupt it as we saw fit, as we find it to trigger our reflections on the larger themes of our conversation. So, this is a screen print from 2007:

“In the ruins of the convention center, they run for their lives, looking for this space which will take them back to their original position. When you rotate the head of the spider, third from the left on the blue-lighted panel, a door opens on the inside of her head and she remembers which song to sing. Feral children who seem to have been here forever, haunt the underground caves beneath the floating pavilion.

I know this because since the first time I came here, I’ve often tried to enter and been scared shitless by their meaningless moaning. It strikes me that they might be happier than we are. There’s something mineral about these creatures, who have never received the blessing of instruction. They hang together upside down from the ceiling like bats. Or is it me who has simply lost my ability to walk underground, as though you were about to disclose some momentous and yet, or is it in hence, rarely uttered truth? The first time you brought me here, you told me it was something all creatures were bore, able to do and which I had lost growing up in the anesthetic atmosphere of the city.

Clearly I thought this was a lie and another one of your tricks, trying to take advantage of my impressionable mind, deranged by solitude and isolation. Now I’m no longer sure. I would like to return to the surface, but realize that once again it is, but another of those labyrinths you have contrived.

Underground, beneath the second house. They say there’s a secret world of caves, shards of crystal, as big as baseball bats, hang down from the ceiling. And there is water of a special kind that quenches all thirst and also all desire. They say, you have made up all these stories to placate your followers. Imagine for an instant that the meaning of all the images could be reshuffled and the knife would mean the mother, and the rat, the silver chain. Clearly I thought this was a lie and another one of your tricks, trying to take advantage of my impressionable mind, deranged by solitude and isolation. Now I am no longer sure. When you rotate the head of the puppet, a door opens on the inside of your head and you remember which song to sing.”

Judith Butler: It’s an extraordinary work of art. It is, as we know from 2007 and it is a screen print. As far as I could tell and I researched as much as I could on the internet, Mai-Thu Perret is the author of this language. She came up with this language, but it is as we can see, a text that is not functioning as a text. It’s on the wall, it’s to be read against a wall. There is no possibility of leafing through the text, of seeing what came before or what comes later. It strikes me as interesting that this work comes to us at this moment. I mean, it was, I believe it belongs to SF MOMA and it’s been around for some time. Yet it strikes me that it has a pandemic resonance for us.

I mean, the first we learn is that the conference centers have been abandoned, that they’re in ruins, that there are no people there. There are no academics, dressed up trying to get jobs or giving their their 12 minute papers on James Joyce. Nobody’s doing that and in fact, we can see that there are… There is throughout this screen print; bats, spiders, feral children, those who have lost the capacity to walk underground. Those who… And then a narrative voice it seems. Who is longing to be relieved of city life, city life that kills the senses, anesthetic.

And is perhaps, also looking for some original song or perhaps the original position, to which the animals were looking to return at the very beginning of this text, this picture.

There’s an obvious disordering of the human world and perhaps also an invitation to consider life, not only through the human access and frame. Perhaps Mel, you could talk for a moment about whether we could understand this artwork, despite its author’s intentions, as a queer underground.

Mel Y. Chen: I love the imagination of the spaces that are created here as queer underground and I’m even, as we’re reading it this time, I’m seeing new dimensions of pandemic. I think, the feral children who seem to have been here forever, which is, I think already like two perversions of time sitting right there, haunting the underground caves.

But they’ve also become quite mineral in quality, right? These creatures who have never received the blessing of instruction and you know, those of us in California, but perhaps in any state, in the US and certainly beyond, have been privy to the kind of frenzy of guardians of children who, can’t wait to put them back into school for the various purposes of instruction. Some of which are discipline, right? The removal of ferality. The queerness comes out through also the mixed forms of address.

I can’t keep track of who is you? Who is me? Who is the spider, who are bats, who are the feral children, who are the shards of crystal? What is gravity and how does it work?

There is a kind of dissolution of the individual that I find to be a certain kind of queer release. A certain kind of a queer place, of certain kinds of queer freedom. So the ambivalence of the text, I wonder what that might have felt like in 2007, right? There was another global economic crisis at that moment. The other thing finally that I wanted to mention is just that the anesthetic atmosphere of the city also kind of limbs through the pandemic in the sense of the city becoming, for at least a number of elite, a place to flee for the country, for the freedoms of the spaces of the country. Right?

So yeah, the ambivalent valances of city and country life, the underground and narratives of development, I think all are beautifully rendered from here.

Judith Butler: Yeah and the spaces that we expect to be humanly inhabited turn out to be the spaces of life for the rats and the bats and maybe even the feral children. Feral children, suggesting that there’s something that has not been eclipsed of their animality in becoming human. They haven’t been educated out of animality to become purely human. So there is a kind of queer alliance there, with the spiders and the bats, for sure.

Mel Y. Chen: And we wondered if there were feral children in Candice Lin’s work as well…

Judith Butler: Yes.

Mel Y. Chen: Running through the background…

Judith Butler: Yeah that’s true. I mean, these are both, in some ways works that are talking about a violence that is done to the senses and the struggle to learn what kind of disfiguration of the human has to take form in order for someone, we don’t know who, to find their song. That is a question in itself, the human form, as it’s been established and ratified over and against the animal and…

Mel Y. Chen: Separate?

Judith Butler: Separable from its landscapes, it’s rather the animate disfiguration of the human form, or it’s the reshuffling of images that allow the human to be coupled with the mineral… The bat, the spider, feral-ness.

Mel Y. Chen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Judith Butler: So, that is the question there and similarly, I mean, we might have thought returning to Candice Lin, that a matriarchal return would’ve been the absence of violence. Yet what we have instead is a murderous encounter as the origin story. They are not, those women are not, when they’re heaving their rocks. They’re not exactly looking for their song to sing and yet there they are heaving those stones. As you say, the rocks are also watching, occupying a very different scale of time than human time.

I think, perhaps we could say at least midway through our presentation, that there’s never been anything mild about feminisms in the plural.

Mel Y. Chen: Right.

Judith Butler: It’s been a life and death struggle from the start. Perhaps, that’s its history, it’s present and its future. We know of the violence done against women, gender queer people and trans people, femicide, battery, abandonment. But we also know that that violence is not just external, coming to us, but also regenerated within, sometimes quite involuntarily.

Mel Y. Chen: The material feminisms and white feminisms and so on.

Judith Butler: Well, that is for sure and perhaps we can take this as well, as a cautionary note, when we think about feminism in the 21st century. Let us not make a monolith of that. It’s hard to even say that, it’s one thing to say, “Oh, there’s feminism in the 21st century.”

Mel Y. Chen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Judith Butler: Then there’s the component of race, the component of sexuality, the component of class, this or that as of that feminism. But why would feminism be the umbrella term for that?

Maybe feminism breaks apart by virtue of its own violences and what it also encounters in the world. But also because it’s in alliance with a number of social movements that may or may not call themselves feminists. They don’t have to be anti-feminist, but feminism may not be the word. It may not be the only word. So if we want feminism to be the umbrella term, we have to make sure we’re not participating in a form of cultural imperialism, mild or vicious.

Mel Y. Chen: Yeah. The risk is that, singular feminism risks great violence and we always have to be mindful of this.

Judith Butler: I think so, it has to also be one word among many. It can’t be the only word, the final word or first word. I think perhaps, we could also think a little bit about the pandemic in terms of the kinds of interconnections we’ve been speaking about. We know that the pandemic has been presented as a disease of the interconnected world. Exposing, illuminating a global interdependency or interconnection, that is inevitable, no matter how strong the nationalisms are, no matter how strong the racisms are.

There is an interconnectedness that undercuts those divisions. Unfortunately it’s an interconnectedness which communicates the virus, but it… That virus also illuminates an interconnectedness that is not restricted to the virus. Maybe, also we can think about the relationship between human and non-human worlds, in the way that, that, that Mai-Thu suggests. The Bats, maybe as you suggested actually, we can think about the pangolin or the wet markets of China as communicators, as vectors for the virus showing this deep connection between human and animal.

Mel Y. Chen: Yeah. The wet markets, right. They speak to interconnectedness but they also speak to a kind of hierarchical relation, right? Between consuming humans and animals who will be eaten or used for other purposes.

I’m also thinking about, if we’re describing the pandemic as a disease of global interconnection, we should recognize the primary mover of that form of interconnection, which is global capitalism. As opposed to the diasporas that we live with, the interconnections of indigenous life, the interdependencies that are very local to life, wherever you might look. So the interconnectedness can sometimes occlude forms of interdependency and I think we’re seeing that in the fairly… The troubling approaches to healthcare, to medical remedy for COVID, to vaccination, to even quarantine and isolation.

Judith Butler: That seems very true. I wonder if we could, talking about global issues, turn to Liz Larner’s piece from 2019.

Mel Y. Chen: Sure.

Judith Butler: Which we refer to as the green woman.

Mel Y. Chen: Green woman.

Judith Butler: That is not. Yeah. There’s green woman. This is a piece from 2019, and the title is, “You might have to live like a refugee.” Mel, do you want to introduce this to us?

Mel Y. Chen: Let me get to the… You’re doing some invisible time management, Judith. Thank you so much.

So, here we have a garish, green feminine person in a dress, and what this image doesn’t show is that the object is about eight inches high, which is a relatively small scale for the show, maybe the smallest scale of the pieces. It’s mounted on the end of a wall divider between two rooms. It’s actually positioned in flight toward that wall divider, with the head turned to the right, perhaps looking back. The sculpture is mounted between, I think five and six feet high, I didn’t verify this, but in person it felt around that height, which might or might not be eye level, depending on where the observer is stationed.

You might have to live like a refugee, thanks to Julia Brian Wilson for this knowledge, is a citation of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (Sings) You might have to live like a refugee.

Judith Butler: Beautiful.

Mel Y. Chen: Yeah.

Judith Butler: I didn’t know you were going to do that. That’s so good.

Mel Y. Chen: I’m just feeling it.

Judith Butler: Okay. All right.

Mel Y. Chen: Did you want to speak to the patina on the piece?

Judith Butler: Well, I mean it’s odd. The woman is green, and we read in the curatorial comments that perhaps that’s the oxidation of bronze, the kind that you find on the Statue of Liberty, perhaps. This is liberty, the tradition of liberty being oxidized, or ruined, but green is also strange. She’s not white, she’s not Black, she’s not brown. What is she exactly? Is this a post-racial moment? Are we green washing race, perhaps? It is green, maybe in relationship to climate destruction. Maybe she’s a green party advocate. I think that it is a bit disturbing since she certainly, upon closer inspections, looks like she’s probably a cis white woman who’s running, and who has apparently never had to think about the idea of ever being a refugee, because she has been settled in place for a very long time.

The title, although perhaps an ironic citation, and I’m certainly open to that, “You might have to live like a refugee,” that sentence could only be uttered to someone who has never considered that she would ever have to live like a refugee. We could say, “Well, climate destruction is going to make refugees of us all, or increasing number of people.” True. That’s right. But who is the addressee? It must be a museum-goer who is understood to be, I don’t know, propertied, or settled, or economically enfranchised in such a way, racially privileged in such a way, that being a refugee is something other people are, or have been, or will become, but not me. There’s something disturbing, I think, about that as an address. Why is this work of art being made for the bourgeoisie who cannot imagine itself ever as suffering forced migration, or displacement or dispossession? It strikes me that it contracts its potential audience in a way that’s very disturbing.

Mel Y. Chen: I confess that I wanted to run from this work the minute I saw it. I wanted to run from the running woman. I think that it does in some ways too little with the notion of the refugee, and suspends it as a kind of non-animate metaphor. I think the live like, rather than be, you might have to live like a refugee. What does it mean to live like a refugee? I don’t even know what that means. Right? You might have to be a refugee is a different kind of claim, or a different kind of conditional possibility. So, the remoteness of these possibilities disturbs me too. It suggests to me that green in this case does stand for white, maybe of also white feminism.

I think when we bring this into conversation with other works in the show, as well as other works beyond the show, we are forced to ask certain kinds of critical questions of, for me, what you could call a kind of [inaudible] cognitive achievement of this piece. To calculate the simile of living like a refugee, it’s a [inaudible] cognitive achievement, given the very recent for Larner at 2019, was in the wake of the xenophobic European reception of refugees from the Middle East, among them Afghan refugees from an ongoing war, which the U.S. initiated 20 years ago, and is reiterating in various ways today. I think maybe you wanted to mention something that’s happening in Texas today.

Judith Butler: Yes. It does strike me that we do need to think about climate destruction, and the ways in which forced migration is happening, but then we can also ask, for whom has that already happened, either because of climate destruction or environmental toxins, or war zones where the soil is completely destroyed? How many people have to leave their countries because of violence, or censorship, or military persecution, but also because the conditions of life have been so massively destroyed through extractivism, or bombing, that life is not livable on that soil? So, what would it mean to broaden this out, so that we could talk about forced migration refugees in light of colonial violence and its aftermath? Dispossession, extractivism, continuing capitalist complicity with colonial devastation.

I think that we’re not yet operating in a large enough framework to take all those things into account, so this figure seems narrow, seems somehow not quite there. And yes, we know that there are at least 10,000 people huddled under a bridge south of the Texas border who are trying to exercise their international rights to be considered as refugees and be eligible for asylum, and they are pushed back and forced to live there under the bridge. The bridge becomes their roof. They’re not fleeing. They have fled. They have been moving now for months, if not years, many of who from Haiti, and where is their shelter? We talk about gender, and the domestic sphere. It’s like, well, that bridge is the shelter. That bridge is the roof.

What is it like for men, women, and children to be underneath that roof, and calling that the space of inhabitation, and making that a space of common inhabitation? It’s part of what I think we need to think about when we talk about new time, or our time, or the time of refugees, the time of migrants who are systematically deprived of legal, political rights of movement, and of transfer and of consideration by legal regimes. They are kept waiting in scenes of detention, sometimes detention centers, but sometimes just out there under the roof, or by the wall, or by the fence, or at the gate.

That seems extremely important. I did notice that in the catalog, in the introduction, there was this line. “We are artists, but everyone who works for the expansion of space, even if it is just mental space, is an artist.” Well, that’s beautiful. But it can be imperial expansion, and we don’t want that, but we do want the expansion of space for people to be able to exercise the fundamental capacities for movement, and for life forms, human and otherwise, to be able to flourish and to expand. So in that sense, I’m all for it.

Mel Y. Chen: And I’m all for, and I think the point that you’re making, Judith, and that we’re talking about with regard to this image, which is getting a lot of our kind of critical weight, but it is a helpful example of maybe what not to do about new time. If the condition is set for the future, and if there have been no such conditions in the past, then we’re working on forgotten and erased time. Time in which the addressee of this work, who might well be a settled U.S. resident, has played a role in displacement, and the forms of violence that you already described, and that doubles the harm in some ways that is being done to the Haitian people at the border.

I couldn’t help but notice that one of the excuses for beginning to deport Haitians from the border, and some of these are Diasporic Haitians who haven’t been in Haiti for some time. The deportations are being described as necessary, in part because of “unsanitary conditions under the bridge.” This to me is a very troubling deployment of what feel like colonial tactics of distancing, and of dirtying, which have a very long history in the colonial history of the U.S. So for me, this is a really troubling culmination of events around the border and beyond.

Judith Butler: I see that we have about 29 minutes before we end, and we wanted to take questions for about 20 of those. So perhaps, if you agree, Mel, we could talk a little bit about some of the other paintings briefly, and maybe find a way to conclude from there.

Mel Y. Chen: Sounds great. Yeah. Let’s do it.

Judith Butler: I’m also aware that in the catalog, which is a very interesting book, there’s a great discussion with Hortense Spillers about her essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” the publication of which I remember very clearly. Hortense there says, “Feminism has become part of the curriculum,” and she worries that that’s a woeful domestication of what used to be a movement.

We also see that, that sometimes feminist scholarship distinguishes itself from movement discourse saying, “Well, this is academic feminism, that the movement is different.” They write differently, they communicate differently, and a certain kind of divide can emerge between feminism as an academic enterprise, and as a social movement, and Hortense writes, “There are women in this country today who legitimately wonder what happened to their movement, but it went to the university, to the disciplines, with fundraising imperatives and hiring practices, and that’s a different animal from the movement, from the polemics that come out of jail time and confronting the police.”

So, what feminism has become is a curricular object that in the living memory of at least one of its generations has a very different source, a movement component. But she also says another thing that I think is really important. Sometimes people come at her and say, “Oh well, gender feminism, maybe it’s not so important. We should be talking about imperialism. We should be talking about some other broad framework.”

And she says, “Look, sometimes if you’re coming to me and you want to talk about imperialism, and you want to stuff gender into that, maybe what you’re telling me with the word imperialism is that you don’t want to talk about gender, and you don’t particularly want to talk about Black women, but whatever you’re thinking about in the world, you have to be talking about Black women, because there is no subject,” she says, “that you can speak about in the modern world, where you will not have to talk about African women, and new-world African women. Then she adds, but no one wants to address them.

So I’m wondering about this green woman. Maybe that’s an example of not wanting to address them, and yet speaking of race at the same time. I don’t know if you want to add something to that, Mel.

Mel Y. Chen: I just really appreciate you’re bringing up this point. I feel like I’m running out of time, but I had written down a quote from Zakiyyah Jackson’s recent book, Becoming Human, that I thought would respond to your identification. Actually, you didn’t speak to it, but the question of how primary racialization, what kind of primary role gendered racialization might have to play for “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe.”

Zakiyyah writes, “To the extent that blackness is an identity, that identity is not complete in itself. It points to an evolving multi-scale field of inter-, intra-acting systems. This is a reference to Karen Barad’s work. Human and not human, not a discreet entity or compound, while the structure of Blackness may assume a significant measure of coherence, a systematic anti-Blackness has certainly enjoyed a remarkably stable [inaudible] loss of redundant and premature death. Nevertheless, it is a [inaudible] loss that in its very iterative structure, defers ontological finality.” I just wanted to share that as a response to what you brought up.

Judith Butler: Great.

Mel Y. Chen: I also thought maybe we could, we sort of promised to talk about queer, crip and trans time, and we wrote a lot about this, and we again have run out of time in relation to those topics. I don’t know, I’m feeling a little responsible, Judith.

Judith Butler: That’s okay. Why don’t you be responsible to those topics? Be responsible to those topics, that’s okay. Because I think it’s central. No? Okay. Up to you.

Mel Y. Chen: It is central. I think maybe the most significant point here is that single-issue political movements occlude the massive intersectionalities that are already here. I would identify queer, trans, and crip time as prevalent and present in ways that defy the kinds of analysis that come out of top down, single issue, political imaginations. I wanted to speak to the beautiful collisions of queer, trans, and crip being here in Oakland, California, in communities that have had to defy the majoritarian imaginations of pandemic management.

Majoritarian imaginations that are most aligned with allopathic medical, industrial complex, and turn more toward the forms of recognition that we have among ourselves, and the kinds of mutual care, sometimes realized as what we call mutual aid, in pandemic time. Somehow that felt important to register. These are not marked. They become marked under certain regimes of imagination for the pandemic, but I think in fact we need to reverse that scale. We need to be thinking about the prevalence of the underground in which these ways of being with are in fact everywhere.

Judith Butler: I think it’s true, and perhaps pandemic time has also made clear to us the importance of infrastructures of care. Care not just as a subjective disposition, or orientation. Care, not just as a maternal ethics, but care as a radical democratic infrastructure to which everyone should have some kind of access, and be able to help reproduce in whatever ways are possible. I’m aware that the care manifesto that came out of the UK talks about the de-domestication of care, and the fact is that so many people have always been reliant on social and public services in order to accomplish some of the very fundamental actions of life, getting out into the street, or to food sources, or to medical sources, or finding sociality. There are technologies and infrastructures that make movement possible, and that make it possible in a safe way. In a way, I feel like the rest of the world is catching up with what disability theorists and activists have been saying for a very long time.

Mel Y. Chen: And are acting on, and have been acting on, and cannot wait to act on.

Judith Butler: Yes.

Mel Y. Chen: They’re not going to wait until the end of quarantine to activate these networks, or to reanimate them, or to strengthen them.

Judith Butler: That seems right. I think there’s a strong streak of anti-capitalism in this idea of a radical democratic commitment to the infrastructures of care. Everyone and anyone should be part of a care network. We may or may not be disabled now, but we will be, and almost certainly, or it may be that the ideals of ability have precisely been the ones that have made us misunderstand human vulnerability, dependency, and the conditions of mobility and agency. The conditions in the world, the public conditions, that we need in order to move, to move well, to breathe, to breathe well.

And we are all now aware we need our environments to be safe, we need our environments to be ones in which we can breathe or we can become close to another without being imperiled or imperiling others. But we, I believe, are slowing down in order to think more deliberately about where we do harm and where we offer care or where we offer solicitude or support.

And this is a slowing down of an accelerated economy, it’s a slowing down of life, where many laments about it, but actually I think it opens up a different way of understanding the world. So maybe this non-market-driven form of temporality is part of our new time or our pandemic time. And maybe, especially for women who have carried the burden of care so disproportionately, it’s time that care be de-domesticated and become part of a global interdependency, a globally shared way of life, utopian…

Mel Y. Chen: And a kind of intensified spaciousness, if not an occupational space or time, but a spaciousness for a time that allows these other non-capitalistic forms of care to flourish.

Judith Butler: Yes. Thank you, Mel.

Mel Y. Chen: Thank you so much, Judith.

Judith Butler: Shall we open up our conversation?

Mel Y. Chen: Yeah, absolutely. Y’all, there was so much more we wanted to talk about.

Judith Butler: I know. Or we’ll have to do part two sometime.

Mel Y. Chen: So, we have some questions here. One is by [inaudible]: “Moving slightly beyond the specific works explored in today’s presentation, what do you think are the relations between notions of space that are emerge through pandemic time? I ask because space and time/temporality are obviously very interrelated and pandemic time seems to have changed space, how spaces envisioned, what kinds of spaces are available to which people and why, and how capitalism has impacted these notions of space.” Want to jump in?

Judith Butler: Yeah. I mean, I think that it’s a very fine question and it’s a driving question for all of what we’re thinking about right now. There’s no question in my mind. I think that we are in the midst of rethinking what is public and what is private and what is the poorest character of that relationship.

Even for those who did have homes and shelters to which they could return and actually comply with lockdown orders, they were dependent on people leaving their homes and delivering groceries or delivering medicines, and so putting themselves at risk.

And we saw that many people did not have the economic capacity to obey a lockdown order. They had to go out and work, they had to imperil themselves in order to make a wage or to keep a rent paid.

And I think that that is a hideous choice that so many people had to make and continue to have to make, where they must work under dangerous conditions because otherwise they will not be able to provide for life. And yet, by working under dangerous conditions, they are impairing their lives and very possibly the lives of others.

We saw this in major corporations. We saw this in meat packing industries and we saw it at Amazon. But it recalls what Mark was saying about capitalism in the early manuscripts, the worker goes to work in order to make a living, except going to work is what imperils their life.

And that contradiction has now, it’s moved into a very contemporary form, but it is there. So I think this is also a time in which anti-capitalism is becoming more and more understandable. We see how people are driven to open markets, do so with a clear understanding that yes, a certain group of people will get ill, yes, a certain group of people will die, but that is acceptable. So who are those dispensable populations?

But I think all of this has to do with space because it’s about moving in and out of the home, it’s about trying to keep the home by moving out of the home to labor. But also, as we know, so many people who are unhoused don’t have that capacity, and their governments are pushing them, demolishing their… At least in the U.S. and in Oakland, right here, the city council every week lists the demolitions will happen. So even those provisional structures of home are being destroyed and people are being put in more and more vulnerable positions vis-a-vis the virus and other health crises.

And I was telling Mel that the City of Oakland doesn’t actually like to supply and generally does not supply sanitation at various encampments precisely because it fears that those encampments will become long-term communities with toilets, with running water, with heated facilities. They want people to suffer without that so that they will move and leave the city. And that a nefarious, brutal, death-driven policy.

Mel Y. Chen: Thank you, Judith. And I guess I would add, I’m also reminded of just the duality of movements through space, both by your words and also by what I mentioned before, the kind of temporary migration of certain kinds of elite moneyed people to other places that are less condensed, that are less into the kind of pandemic dangers of the city.

So, there’s a kind of freedom of movement or it’s settlement that is being recognized while at the same time, the kinds of things that Judith speaks to, the old ways in which migration across borders has favored for so long the movements of capital or labor to support that capital as opposed to migration for other reasons.

And so, under the tensions of the pandemic, we are seeing some reorganization, but I’m also thinking just about racialized bodies in space, which bodies are continuing to undergo the same kinds or even deeper forms of abuse in public spaces.

The murders of Black people in the pandemic have not gone down in number, and I think the ways in which Asian bodies have been racialized in the public spaces of the U.S. are only accentuated but they were already here.

I’m always the last person someone will sit next to on the bus. These are histories of contaminant or contagious bodies that stick to racialized bodies in ways that only are accentuated in this pandemic. It could have started anywhere, but they’re still often Asian in some racial nature.

Judith Butler: Okay. We have a request to take the green lady down.

Mel Y. Chen: Oh. I never remember to stop sharing a screen.

Judith Butler: That’s all right.

Mel Y. Chen: I see it now. Sorry about that. People are asking about accessing the exhibition catalog. I would imagine that it can be found on the website of the… Okay, we’re going to get an answer.

We also have a question on the disease of interconnectedness. “If we interconnect, we get sick.” This is from [inaudible] Frasier. “In order for many people to be free from their contained quarantine spaces to explore their queer interrelatedness is scaffolding, where maybe the quarantine space becomes a diseased space, but not COVID disease, so much duality here. I wonder if you can speak to the dreamlike states of online identities jumping out ahead of the real-life live time adjustments.” Wow, there’s a lot there.

Judith Butler: Yeah, somebody has an article to write or maybe their own talk to give. But I want to at least address one part of that. My sense is that COVID-19 is a disease of the interconnected world, by which I mean that it’s only by virtue of the interconnectedness that characterizes this world, that a disease like this can go from being a local disease or an epidemic to being a pandemic. That is to say something that runs through through potentially all the people, where there’s no immunity by virtue of place or nation or territorial jurisdiction.

So, it’s not that interconnectedness produces a disease or that it’s a diseased phenomenon, no, I don’t think it is, and Mel, I think rightly distinguish between the kinds of interconnectedness that are driven by global capitalism and another sense of interdependency that might be part of a global infrastructure of care. So, those go in different directions for me.

But there’s something else in your question that maybe we have time to at least touch upon, which is the fact that, on the one hand, being locked in a domestic space if you’re a queer kid, you’re a trans kid. If you’re a gender nonconforming kid, you’re locked in a family of origin space, where you’re dead named, or you’re ridiculed, or you’re beaten, or you’re disparaged, or you find yourself locked inside a room inside of a house that’s already in lockdown and suffering massive isolation.

I mean, queer, trans, non-gender conforming kids have had a very rough time under this pandemic, and sometimes the space of the internet is the only space of liveliness of communities. So, that is a massive change.

So, on the one hand, we think, “Oh, the shelter is good, it keeps you safe.” Well, the shelter is never good for people who are being beaten up in the shelter. And we know that that tends to be women and children and vulnerable men of various kinds. There is a duality like, “Oh, which one of these things?” And I also see, it’s very clear that in certain countries like Poland, they’ve tried to declare trans-free spaces, where trans people cannot go out on the street. And if they do, they will be arrested as a public health threat.

So, now that states are able to sort of regulate spaces on the basis of who’s a public health threat or what is a public health threat, they’re extending it to regulate people appearing in gendered ways that do not conform to received ideas of masculinity and femininity. We are definitely seeing a heightened regulation of gender under these pandemic conditions that makes public space very dangerous for many people. And I’m seeing a rise in that throughout the world, actually.

Mel Y. Chen: And I think any of us who teach in universities that have residential programs have been in touch with some queer or trans student who, in lockdown when they were sent home by the university, have been in touch because they cannot go home.

Judith Butler: Yeah, they’re living in cars or they’re living outside.

Mel Y. Chen: So, it seems that it’s really important, from what Judith has said, to understand pandemic time or the spaces of this pandemic time, which we are still in, in which the world is still in and will be in for a very long time, as places as times of the intensification of various forms of violence, the intensification of various forms of regulation and the withdrawal, the further withdrawal of forms of public spites so the ruins of the convention center doesn’t necessarily give us anything. We are just understanding space to be remapping itself in ways that are quite frightening, in fact, and will have consequences for precisely queer, trans, and disabled bodies.

There’s one more question, Tom Petty song, see, this is what I confess I never really listened to it, which is why it’s remarkable that I sang that.

Judith Butler: Yeah, that was beautiful.

Mel Y. Chen: And, in fact, I’ve now learned that it was incorrect because Naomi Yamoto says Tom Petty song actually says, “You don’t have to live like a refugee. Does that make a difference to your analysis?” Maybe not. If the condition is still like a refugee, then I feel the analysis might stand. But Judith?

Judith Butler: Well, maybe it’s an indictment. You don’t have to… you, not others, but you, definitely don’t have to live like a refugee. So, let’s remind ourselves if you are privileged. And yet, there she is, all greened up, running into a wall. Hard to read. Hard to read.

Mel Y. Chen: Hard to read, yeah.

Judith Butler: I want also to just make public an important amendment. Here, an anonymous listener has reminded me that in Poland, they’re known as LGBT-free Spaces. They appeared in east-southern Poland and are still around. They declare themselves to be free of so-called gender ideology. All these I know. Thank you very much.

Mel Y. Chen: There is this question. What do you think is the most important for universities to be conscious of in regards to BIPOC/queer student discrimination during the pandemic?

Judith Butler: I want to say this, that I feel like the rubric of inclusion, diversity, there’s another part of that, it’s a tri-part type thing, that inclusion and diversity are terms that are meant to signal the willingness of an institution and university or corporation to include people of all colors, of all sexualities, of all genders.

But those terms can never describe the struggle for racial justice, they can never describe the struggle for gender justice, for economic justice, or for gender freedom or sexual freedom or the freedom to move in the world supported by infrastructures of care.

There’s a much more radical and hopeful way of thinking about the world we want to imagine and to make. And some of that language of diversity and inclusion, it really cuts it down, it cuts it back. It wants to include people in existing institutions, but it doesn’t want to think about how existing institutions have to be radically revised in order to be dedicated to the fight, dedicated to the fight for racial justice, for gender justice, or for the long struggle for reparation and recognition on the part of indigenous people or indeed African-Americans or diasporic Africans more broadly.

Mel Y. Chen: Indeed.

Judith Butler: Yeah. I think we need to radicalize our way of imagining. And universities, at their best, can do that.

Mel Y. Chen: And at their norm, which is what we’re seeing now, are doing fairly poorly. The gestures of inclusion are only gestures. They don’t reorganize how disability, which co-locates with racial marking in really important ways that have been described in the scholarship. Those gestures of inclusion don’t become reorganization, they don’t become reparation.

And I do want to just alert folks to doing everything you can, please, to ensure that our BIPOC, queer, trans, non-binary students can stay within our communities. This is actually a more urgent time, the time of resumption, the time of reassertion of a certain kind of invulnerable public, is precisely when their lives and their presence becomes more endangered.

Judith Butler: Well, thank you very much, Mel, this was an interesting conversation.

Mel Y. Chen: Thank you so much, Judith.

Judith Butler: It didn’t go exactly as we planned, but I think that’s good. You have to let things leave their script, otherwise they’re just not clear.

Mel Y. Chen: I truly agree. I loved it. Thank you so much. And thank you all for sitting with us. Really great to be with you virtually.

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Outro: You’ve been listening to Berkeley Talks, Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Acast, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Also, check out another podcast of ours, Berkeley Voices, about the people who make UC Berkeley the creative, quirky, world-changing place that it is. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.